GeoWorld September 2011

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Three Reasons GIS Should be Understood as Social Media THE "G" IN GIS V arious presentations made during two con- ferences in 2011 made me rethink what it means to do GIS these days. The first meeting was the Where 2.0 Symposium organized by O'Reilly (most major presentations can be viewed at where2conf. com/where2011). I'm impressed by how fast the rest of the IT world and the Web have rallied behind locational or geospatial information to organize everything on the Web as well as in the world. The second meeting was this year's BY DANIEL SUI Esri User Conference. If you missed one of the largest GIS gatherings on Earth, with 17,000 attendees (from a humble beginning of 11 attendees back in 1981), all the keynote addresses can be watched online at html. From the conference program, it's evident that Esri demonstrated how fast GIS has been penetrating almost every aspect of society and people's daily lives. GIS as Social Media Based on these conferences, GIS and social media are converging, perhaps at a much faster rate than previously thought. This new trend has serious busi- ness implications (Rainey, 2011) and will pose many fundamental challenges for basic GIScience research (Sui and Goodchild, 2011). If social media can be defined as social interac- tions—online or in person—via the use of Web- based and mobile technologies, then it's obvious that GIS fits the definition of social media. Broadly speaking, GIS must be understood as social media for three reasons: 1. Various users and contributors of online map- Daniel Sui is distinguished professor and chair, Department of Geography, The Ohio State University; e-mail: 12 ping sites have formed their own virtual community for exchanging information. Google Maps, Bing Maps and Yahoo! Maps have attracted a user community in millions. Within two years of moving ArcGIS online, Esri's Web site has attracted a community of more than 300,000 worldwide. Although most of the online postings and exchanges are of a technical nature (e.g., tips on mashup efforts, technical support on KML programming, etc.), recent GEO W ORLD / SEPTEMBE R 2O11 postings by participants of the online mapping community have been covering topics of greater public interest, such as mapping the location of Osama bin Laden's death, Google Earth mashups of critical sites using data posted on WikiLeaks, tracking the diffusion of BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and assisting in the relief efforts for earthquakes in Haiti and Japan. Geo-tagged data harvested from social media, such as tweets, now can be used to create Twitter heat maps depicting global Twitter activity. Undoubtedly, online mapping through the mechanism of volunteered geographic information has become a language for citizens to voice their opinions on world events. They're talking to members within the online mapping community, but also broad- casting to the world about their findings, or at least to those who have Internet access. In this sense, GIS and online mapping sites are more serious and focused social media than Facebook or Twitter. 2. Interactions of online GIS users (i.e., "neo- geographers/neocartographers") aren't confined to cyberspace. A growing number of these actions have resulted in meetings in person and activities in real places. For example, participants of OpenStreetMap (OSM) in North America and Europe have been organizing mapping parties over weekends to work together to map the road networks for their communities ( openstreetmaps-mapping-parties-this-weekend). OSM even gives specific instructions on how to organize such mapping parties (wiki.openstreetmap. org/wiki/Mapping_Weekend_Howto). URISA's GIS Corps program ( has been able to organize volunteers with GIS skills and send them worldwide to fulfill various mapping needs, often in difficult locations. Many other Web sites developed in the tradition of citizen science also have attracted large numbers of volunteers, who then meet in person to collect data for various projects that benefit the community (e.g., MapAction, WalkAcrossTexas,

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